I just met a girl named Korea

March 30, 2012

Kat: A lot has happened to the monkeys in the last month, which would have been relayed to you, dear readers, much sooner if our internet would work. Yes, despite what you’ve heard about South Korean internet, we have not seen the super fast connections that allow Koreans to play Starcraft at warp speed in our apartment. My grandma has faster internet.

So while we get it sorted out with our landlord, let’s update you with a couple of things. We are now living in South Korea! Huzzah! Part of me didn’t want to say it out loud in case I jinxed it, but here we are. We’re just about to get our Alien Resident Card, which excites me more because of the fact I will be an “alien” rather than that it will let me go in and out of the country like a Korean. This past week has been a whirlwind of jetlag, colds, getting used to a new country and navigating Ulsan’s complicated transport networks. When I say complicated, I simply mean it’s in Korean. It’s probably very simple otherwise.

More monkey business… nothing to do with Korea whatsoever.

We’re living in a place called Eonyang, which is like telling people you live in Werrington County because they go “Where?” and then you have to tell them it’s next to the Ulsan KTX station. It’s a suburb of Ulsan City, an industrial area famous for Hyundai, Samsung and petrochemicals. What I like most about Eonyang (apart from the mostly clean air) is its location in the foothills of the Yeongnam Alps. There are beautiful mountain ranges only half an hour away by bus, and I can’t wait to explore them this weekend.

But first things first. We went back to London to organise our visas at the consulate there. Originally we’d planned to go overland from London to Istanbul, but Istanbul doesn’t give out South Korean visas to non-residents, so we had to cut our trip short in Romania. It took a week to process the paperwork (all throughout our minds were going “What if…?”) but there were no problems. While we waited we took a small trip up to Manchester.

Given the city is most famous for a football team, I didn’t know what to expect. But since it was only five pounds each way on Megabus we decided to give it a go. In fact, Manchester is home to some of the world’s most beautiful libraries. The John Rylands library is up there with the best of Hogwarts. High gothic ceilings, roof to floor book cases, ancient leather tomes… Sigh. It houses the P52 fragment, the world’s oldest fragment of the bible. It’s no more than a little triangle of papyrus, but it has one of the most significant bible passages on both sides, where Pontius Pilate asks “What is truth?”  in John 18. At least it wasn’t the Leviticus mildew laws.

As Manchester was the heart of the industrial revolution in England, it still retains many of the Victorian buildings from the time. The town hall gleamed with that old world charm, with punched leather armchairs giving that smooth smoking club feel – without the smoke. Marble halls and long arched corridors made it something out of a gothic novel. We walked along the canals, a little less Victorian and a little more Cracker, expecting a dead body to come floating face down, twigs in the hair, ready for Fitz to start analysing the culprit.

We also caught up on our movie going, not knowing whether our movie loving appetites would be satiated in Korea. Given that when I moved to France I had to see both Batman Begins and Star Wars III dubbed in Francais (que la force soit avec vous, people), I’m a bit worried I may need to see the Dark Knight Rises in Korean. And Titanic 3D. Of course.

Our sojourn in Manchester passed too quickly and we went back to London to pick up the visas, buy some teaching clothes and shoes. With all our extra luggage we managed to just stuff it into our backpacks, practically bursting at the seams. We got the visas on the Monday and flew out on the Tuesday, saying goodbye to our friends and family before setting off on another leg of this epic adventure. The funniest thing: we flew via Istanbul Attaturk Airport, a motley market of women in hijabs and men carrying too many suitcases.

Stuffed baggage… but this is travelling light for some.

Some people have been a little confused by our sudden jobs and teaching situation – part of it is to save money for the next leg of our trip, the Asian Adventure (the previous leg was dubbed National Lampoon’s European Vacation). We need to save some moolah for a couple of incredible tours, trekking in Nepal and bumming in Thailand. And we’d always planned to settle down and teach somewhere as part of our trip. We’ll be in Korea for one year, so if you have any plans to visit, come on up. The time difference is not so bad (only 2 hours), so there’s no jetlag between here and Australia.

Justin:  “Anyong-haseyo” that’s hello in Korean, as with most journeys into non English speaking countries I’m becoming quite cozy with hello and thank you, anything beyond this is very jittery so far.

It’s brilliant in Korea, the small snippets I’ve had of Koreans prior to visiting the country whetted my appetite for their personalities and character: they are funny, brave, charismatic, ludicrously intelligent and good humoured. They really are a joy to be around and brighten my personality, day and outlook on life all at the same time. Koreans love life and are deeply comfortable in themselves, goes together I guess, it’s just remarkable they get this at such a young age. The country is an economic powerhouse too, a powerful player with really no natural resources, so it’s reliant on exports with an very low unemployment rate of about 3 %. This country has everything going for it and their addiction to football, WWE and western movies and TV shows ensures enough interesting media content is always accessible too.

Last weekend we visited Ulsan, the closest major city, about half an hour by express bus or drive, and home to both the largest automobile assembly plant, the largest shipyard and the largest oil refinery, all in one city and close to each other, neat huh. Depsite it being so focused on industry, particularly around it’s ancient and attractive harbour, the city still looks and feels great and has enough Asian spunk and neon.

We’ve met some new folks and friends at an English speaking church we discovered in Ulsan last weekend too, it was a real find in fact and we enjoyed meal after meal after the service and to our delight discovered the church offers Korean speaking lessons after each Sunday service, and to put icing on the cake new positions  on the worship team will be opening up in the not-too-distant-future – wow could we have asked for more, could God have provided more, no sir. Kat and I really miss playing music in church together, a really important part of our life and relationship is soon to recommence. Going to get a guitar from Ulsan next weekend.

And so we begin teaching, and what a first week, very busy indeed and I need to settle into new life as a teacher: I am getting all the cliches superficial looks down pat: coffee mug in hand constantly, conservative looking pencil case, wearing generally the same type of clothes for certain days and being armed with more red pens than the average joe.

It’s so funny being a teacher because you look down at the kids and remember when you were at school, in spite of all advances in technology they do pretty much the same thing, just substitute early 90s Gameboy for Smartphones with Minecraft. The kids love calling me “teacher, teacher” all the time, they compliment me on being handsome and are very clever at using all sorts of persuaive methods to get me to skip the content and allow games or free time.  I play some games with them, mostly Hangman which they can’t get enough of really. We teach eight half an hour lesson per day at a school a stone’s throw from our apartment.

Our neat apartment

Eonyang is a little off the beaten track but I actually much prefer to live here than in a large city, as Kat mentioned we are at the foothills of some lovely mountains that we will explore tomorrow, being Saturday. So this is Friday and I survived my first week of being a teach on jetlag. We have only scratched the surface, we’ve got a year to go deeper and deeper, what a ride it’s going to be.

“Anyong-haseyo” Goodbye.

Justin and Kat


nice post guys, seems like you have a great set up. must be nice t have your own pad since being backpackers for so long. lets skype soon. love jez

You guys write so well, kept me captivated all the way through – except when you mentioned football, but I just need to deal with that. 🙂 I look forward to reading more posts. xo

Jimmy Genie(Dave)

I’ve read this one. In my opinion , it could be a different point of view , but that reminds me of where I live. I’m looking forward to reading next one.

Jimmy! That’s because it is where you live 🙂

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